With momentum building for a five-town, 38-mile multi-use path that would connect Norwalk to Danbury, town officials are anticipating a two-part project to break ground in Ridgefield in 2014.
The plan is to connect the rail trail that runs from Florida Hill Road to Halpin Lane near the village to the Recreation Center’s bike path on Danbury Road.
That would occur even before construction begins on a second trail that would run near the Route 7 corridor up to southwest Danbury.
“The rail trail comes first for us because the vision is that this path can connect Branchville to Main Street and then Main Street to Danbury Road and up to the Ridgebury part of town,” said Jacqui Dowd, who is the co-chairman of Ridgefield-based Leading Initiatives for New Connections (LINC)
LINC has partnered with the steering committee behind the Norwalk River Valley Trail, which is planning the Norwalk to Danbury trail.
“We’re working with the town on creating an accessway on the Schlumberger property that could make this all possible and we’re also working with the Norwalk River Valley Trail to get going on that bigger project that’s been 10 years in the making,” she said.
“We fully support their plan to promote a healthy lifestyle through easy accessibility and different modes of transportation.”
First Selectman Rudy Marconi said construction on the Recreation Center bike trail could begin as early as the spring.
The existing Recreation Center trail could cross by by Fox Hill condominiums, or at the Copps Hill light, continue down Farmingville to Ligi’s Way.
“From there we have two options — create a boardwalk that would parallel Ligi’s Way and cut through the woods behind Old Quarry or cut through the Great Swamp area off of Farmingville and go behind the transfer station and Goodwill,” he said. “The later is the more preferred way of doing it.”
The aim is to connect to the existing rail trail, which does not now allow bicycles. Permission is being sought from CL&P, which owns the trail, to allow bikes. The trail would then reach southeasterly, close to Branchville center.
The Norwalk River Valley Trail is planned to run by Branchville. A half-mile “demonstration section” — a part of an eight-mile Wilton loop — on Route 7 is poised to open in January.
“The half-mile piece in Wilton will be complete within a month and we expect to have a ribbon cutting ceremony in January,” said Pat Sesto, director of environmental affairs in Wilton and former member of the Ridgefield Conservation Commission. “The next step is to work with the people at Weir Farm, who have partnered with us on this project as part of the National Park Service, and incorporate their parcels of land to pick up the east end of the rail trail in Ridgefield.
“That connection would create easy access from the trail into the Ridgefield center and would make the project that much stronger,” she said. “What a gift it will be to have that in place as just another thing the town has to offer…
“We hope to break ground within in a year.”
Ms. Sesto added that once the river valley trail is successfully hooked up with the rail trail that her group can focus on constructing a path that would run through both Ridgefield and Redding along Route 7 in potential areas such as Hickory Lane, Bobby’s Court, Martin Park and Laurel Lane.
“We’re going to pick up several pieces of the Route 7 corridor to get the trail from Ridgefield into Danbury,” she explained. “It’s going to be a combination of state roads and town open space.”
She expects the project to affect several private property owners as well.
“In time, we’re going to need the cooperation of private property owners,” she said. “I think private property owners will prove to be our biggest obstacle and that’s why we have to do a lot of public outreach and work with people to help them understand the vision for this trail.”
Ms. Sesto said those who are interested can walk the first hundred or so feet of the Wilton Loop, which broke ground on Nov. 8.
She recommends people park in the commuter lot off Wolfpit Road and Route 7 in Wilton. The opening is right at the intersection of Wolfpit and Route 7.
“We’re encouraging people to come see the trail and relate it to others they’ve seen around the country — I think people will be impressed to see everything it has to offer,” she added.
Mr. Marconi said the partnership formed between LINC and the Norwalk River Valley Trail was “crucial” to guiding the project forward in Ridgefield.
“It’s important that those two groups are on the same page with their vision,” he continued. “I am looking at both of them to get together and fundraise to make this possible.”
Ms. Sesto said that she is excited to have LINC on board and that the partnership will help spread awareness and raise funds in town.
“We’re looking forward to having public meetings and listening for feedback and questions concerned community members may have,” she said, but couldn’t confirm when the first meeting would be held.
She said that the project would cost less than $1 million per mile — the amount projected by the planning firm Alta in routing study submitted in September 2012.
She added that the half mile “demo section” in Wilton cost roughly $300,000 and was funded through private donations and seed grants.
That section is part of larger, four-mile piece that will cost $1.6 million total, including a small bridge that will be built over a swamp area — similar to what Ridgefield would need to construct if the town decides to cut through the Great Swamp area off Farmingville Road.
“Every mile is different — it’s more expensive to go over railroads and it’s a big design challenge to cut through wetlands, but, on the flip side of that, it’s a lot cheaper to build on open space topography that has no wetlands, ” Ms. Sesto explained. “Each town has been cruising along with supporting this financially.
“I think we’ll see more hurdles without money being involved,” she continued. “I know all the towns involved with this are pursuing grants and donations, because the idea is not to be knocking on the door of taxpayers.”
As for the path, Ms. Sesto said the goal is to have a 10-feet wide multi-use path once its finally completed.
For now, she said that the trail would be divided in two sections — one for bikers and one for hikers and runners — and it could be as narrow as seven or eight feet wide in some areas.
“It will evolve once we have sufficient funding, but for the short term we will need to keep the uses separate from one another,” she said. “As time goes on, the intent is to bring all the uses together — we ascribe to the philosophy that something is better than nothing and we know it’s better to get people on this path and be active, than to deny them this chance.”
For Ms. Dowd, who also owns Ridgefield Bicycle Co., her first and top priority is making the rail trail safe for all users — hikers, bikers, runners and even skiers.
She stressed that she did not want construction to disturb the wetlands that surround the area or the protective environmental cap underneath the trail that protects users from arsenic and pesticides left by the railroad company, which used to own the property.
Ms. Dowd met with a few representatives from Northeast Utilities last month to address these problems and is waiting to hear back from there about their concerns.
“Once we get the OK from them it’s right into fundraising time,” she said.
“Can you imagine it?” she asked, rhetorically. “You could be walking or biking on Main Street and decide you want to get a cup of coffee at Tusk & Cup in Branchville and then come back through town to get to the Rec Center to watch your kids play — it’s going to be all access, all options, all the time.”
For people interested in donating, go to the website — www.nrvt-trail.com — or make a check out to PO Box 174, Georgetown, CT, 06829. In the comments section of the check, donors can designate which town they want their donation to go to — Ridgefield, Wilton, Norwalk, Redding or Danbury. For those with questions, contact Ms. Sesto at [email protected] or [email protected] .